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Interview: Jenn Reese on “The Right Number of Cats”

Tell us a bit about “The Right Number of Cats.”

When I experience grief, I am always surprised by the disconnect between my actions and my thoughts. Why did I just put the mail in the microwave? Why did a wet leaf stuck to the car window make me burst into tears? Why am I standing in the bathroom staring at the mirror, and how long have I been here? In this story, I wanted to capture that sense of unmooring from cause and effect. I wish this story also held the answer to saving ourselves from the pain of grief, but I’m afraid I haven’t figured that one out yet.


What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I wrote the story in response to a prompt provided by one of my writers’ groups, although the initial prompt didn’t make it into the final version of the story. That’s how these things go sometimes — your brain or the words jump from one place to the next and you sometimes don’t remember how you arrived at your final destination. In this case, I began with the arrival of a strange cat and went from there.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

My biggest influence for this piece was probably “The Body,” a season 5 episode of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer in which the characters deal with the death of Buffy’s mother, Joyce. There is a moment when one of the characters can’t find a particular sweater to wear, and in her grief, the entire world seems to hinge on that one, inconsequential detail. I love how messy everyone is, how their reactions are in character and so out of character at the same time.


What are you working on now?

I’m revising a middle grade novel that, much like this story, involves magical animals and larger, darker themes. It’s the story of girl dealing with a sudden change in her living situation and the animals from a card game that “come to life” and complicate her acclimation. It’s also about recovery from child abuse, making friends, and staying open to hope. I’ll be able to announce it later this year, and it will be published in 2020.


“The Right Number of Cats” appears in the January/February 2019 issue of F&SF.

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